“I call it tutu torture,” says fashion stylist Meaghan O’Connor, 31, a size 20. “I want chic tailored trousers for work and gorgeous feel-good dresses for date night, but because of my size I end up with dowdy polyester pants and juvenile tutus. It makes me want to scream, ‘Put the grommet gun down, remove the rhinestones, and step away from the tulle!’ ” On a more serious note, she adds, “it’s alarming that plus-size clothing is so limited, given that the majority of American women are plus-size. Why are we ignored at designer shops, shoved into a corner at department stores, and forced online to buy our favorite brands?”
O’Connor’s frustrations are familiar to any woman north of a size 12 (which happens to be the size I wear): When it comes to plus fashion, good options do not abound. Many reasonably priced brands, like Topshop, offer only sizes 12 and below; high-end designer fashion on average comes in sizes up to 14, though those 14s are not always easy to find; and offerings from many plus-size retailers have in the past been disappointing. When I took to Twitter to ask plus-size shoppers their peeves, they named “tacky jeans with sequins and embellishments” and “tops that look like tents.” They also noted that plus-size collections from straight-size brands often aren’t as fashionable as the main lines’. “I wish they’d stop with the flowy tops and the frumpy patterns,” said one. But mostly, the women I heard from just wanted more. “While everyone at my office looks sharp and established, I feel like I’m taken less seriously because of my clothing,” says Jodie Paine, a 26-year-old, size-14 Web designer. “I wish I could find stylish pieces like leather skirts, but a lot of plus size workwear is cheap and dated, with unflattering suits and button-downs.”
All of which means something is seriously wrong. More than half the women in this country are a size 14 or above, but they account for only 17 percent of apparel sales, according to a 2014 report by the NPD Group. It’s not that we’re not interested in fashion; 88 percent of us would spend more money on trendy clothing if it were available. No, it’s that fashion, historically, hasn’t been that interested in us. Need a particularly startling example? In the course of reporting this story, I called the New York City flagship of a famous French fashion house to inquire about finding a suit jacket from its spring collection in a size 20. After informing me that the jacket’s in-store sizing stops at a six, the salesman paused, then offered a suggestion: that I buy two and sew them together.
Sew two jackets—two expensive jackets—together? How on earth did we get here, and why wouldn’t any sane label want to please a woman with money to spend? “That’s the million-dollar question,” says Sports Illustratedswimsuit-issue cover model Ashley Graham, a size 16, who debuted a clothing collection with Dressbarn this spring. “Brands think that expanding their size range will dilute their image.” Actress Melissa McCarthy, who also recently launched her own line, agrees—and points out that creating larger versions of straight-size designs can be challenging, since doing so requires more than just making everything bigger. “Needing a little more room on your hips and bust does not mean that your wrist is the size of a stop sign!” she told me.
But the good news—and there is good news—is that things are starting to change. Existing plus-size brands are learning that their customers crave fashionable clothing, and some straight-size lines are extending their offerings into plus territory. Consider this your cheat sheet for getting the best out of 12-and-above fashion now.
First, Know Which Plus-Size Brands Have the Best Fashion
There are lines that get it. Lane Bryant’s designer collections—created by talent like Lela Rose, Christian Siriano, Sophie Theallet, and Isabel Toledo—are continuously expanding, with Glamour launching its own capsule in the brand’s stores this fall. “The opportunity in fashion is in inclusivity, not exclusivity,” says Lane Bryant CEO Linda Heasley. “The desire to find well-designed pieces doesn’t differentiate by size.”
For on-trend collections, also look to: Simply Be and Carmakoma for cool, of-the-moment pieces; Eloquii for fast, trendy styles—now up to size 28; lines like Elvi, Persona, and Marina Rinaldi for elevated workwear; emerging American brands including Mei Smith and Universal Standard for chic, refined basics; celeb-helmed brands for personal style. In addition to McCarthy, singer-song-writer Beth Ditto has launched her own collection, and actress Rebel Wilson has an ongoing collaboration with Torrid; sharewear service Gwynnie Bee(think of it as a plus-size Rent the Runway), which lets you lease the latest trends
Shop the Straight-Size Brands That Carry Larger Sizes
Established designers are expanding their offerings too. Rachel Roy, for example, launched a curvy collection this spring. “I started my brand in 2005 and have been getting requests from plus-size customers ever since,” she says, noting that the new styles will be as fashion-forward as her main line’s. “When I interviewed fit models, I kept hearing that they didn’t want me to shy away from things like off-the-shoulder pieces. So I didn’t.”
Other straight-size brands also make plus sizes, but those 12-and-up garments can be tricky to find. So know this: Burberry, Max Mara, Oscar de la Renta, and Rosie Assoulin, among others, produce select pieces in sizes up to 16. Find them on their sites or Moda Operandi and Saks.com. Banana Republic, J.Crew, and Kate Spadealso offer sizes up to 16 online. Akris, Loft, Gap, and Lafayette 148 New York go up to 18 online. Ralph Lauren’s Lauren Woman, Michael Michael Kors, Asos, Forever 21, Mango, New Look, Old Navy, and River Island carry full plus-size lines from 1X to 4X and 14 to 30 on their websites. Chanel carries off-the-rack pieces in sizes up to 20; the same goes for Prada, though by special order only. On consignment sites like The RealReal, you can often land designer pieces in sizes as large as 20.
And if you’re between sizes 12 and 16, Graham suggests trying on whichever straight-size brands you love. “Sometimes plus-size girls are afraid to try on clothes in high-end stores because they think they won’t fit and they’ll get judge-y looks,” she says. “But who cares what the store clerks think? The trick is to know which cuts will work for your body. I carry my weight in my low stomach, and I’m thinner up top, so shorter tops and fit-and-flare dresses work for me. My favorite new brand is A.L.C.” It’s also worth noting that many designer pieces have up to two inches in the seam, which a tailor can let out.
Update Your Closet With Accessories
Almost any look can be brought into the here and now with stylish shoes, bags, and jewelry. “I can get into a rut of just wearing a plain tee or all-black clothes, so accessories are my savior,” says model Candice Huffine. “With colorful bags and fun hats, even my simple out- fits feel refreshed. This season I can’t wait to break out the bandana scarves!” Some look-changing extras to keep an eye on for spring: shoulder-grazing earrings, chokers, chain bags, and midi heels.
And Toss the Rules Out the Window
Finally, all the women I interviewed had one suggestion in common: Whatever you do, don’t believe the old “shoulds” about what curvy women should wear. “Plus- size women have been told for so long, ‘You can’t wear this; you don’t look good in that; stripes are not for you,’ ” says Graham. “Honestly, it’s a bunch of bull! The more rules you break and the more fun you have with it, the better you’re going to look.” Model Precious Lee agrees: “The printed pajamas I wore for my Glamour shoot are so different from what you’re supposed to wear if you’re plus-size. Don’t be afraid of bold prints because you think they may make you look bigger.” And McCarthy has personal proof that writing your own fashion rules pays off. “People would tell me that the clothes I wanted aren’t made because ‘no plus- size woman wants a patterned pant,’ ” she recalls. “Meanwhile I was making them for myself and constantly being asked where I got them.” So now the comedian has a message for Glamour readers: “Wear the damn cheetah print,” she says. “I beg you.”
— Lauren Chan